Outgoing Wellington Free Ambulance boss slams lack of Government funding

Wellington Free Ambulance chief executive Diana Crossan, who retired from the role this week, hopes for a future in ...
KEVIN STENT/FAIRFAX NZ

Wellington Free Ambulance chief executive Diana Crossan, who retired from the role this week, hopes for a future in which ambulances are fully government-funded.

Wellington Free Ambulance chief executive Diana Crossan is stepping down from the organisation she has proudly led for the past four years with just one, multimillion-dollar, gripe.

It is still a charity. The police are fully funded by the taxpayer. So is the Fire Service. The country's two ambulance providers, WFA and St John, are not.

"It's slight madness that we still need to shake a bucket to raise money to keep the business going," Crossan says.

Sir Charles John Boyd Norwood, who founded Wellington Free Ambulance 90 years ago.
SP ANDREW LTD/ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY/Ref: PAColl-6407-24.

Sir Charles John Boyd Norwood, who founded Wellington Free Ambulance 90 years ago.

"I think we've gone past the point of no return, in some way. Because I think nobody would expect New Zealand not to have an ambulance ... it's fundamental that we have an ambulance, isn't it?"

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WFA receives almost 75 per cent of its funding from the Government. Its shortfall is $6 million a year, of which $4.2m is covered by charity, and the rest by commercial contracts.

This week the Government announced a $60m funding injection for the two ambulance services to hire assistants so that every ambulance is double-crewed.

"It's slight madness that we still need to shake a bucket to raise money to keep the business going," Crossan says of ...
MONIQUE FORD/ FAIRFAX NZ

"It's slight madness that we still need to shake a bucket to raise money to keep the business going," Crossan says of Wellington Free Ambulance.

This was lauded by St John, which had been lobbying amid concerns that sending single-crewed ambulances to emergencies was putting both patients and paramedics at risk. 

But it was cold comfort for WFA, which already has a double-crewing policy.

Crossan estimates  about $60m a year would provide close to 100 per cent funding for St John and WFA to provide emergency services.

As to the question of why not charge Wellingtonians for ambulance callouts, she replies that doing so would bring in only about $1.7m a year.

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She says she never got a satisfactory answer as to why the ambulance services should have to go begging.

"It's mostly by tradition. I even asked [Prime Minister] Bill English the other day why he thought it was funded like this and that was his answer as well.

"In the beginning, ambulances popped up around the country, usually around the hospitals. The community would say 'We need an ambulance,' and they would fundraise for one.

"Nobody's thought to scoop them up and put them in the normal funding."

Crossan finished at WFA on Friday,  and is semi-retiring after a 45-year career.

Her career trajectory began with a job at the probation service, where she worked for 14 years ("I hit the glass ceiling and I moved sideways because I wasn't going anywhere, because underwhelming men were getting the job rather than any woman, at all.")

She worked in the public service, then became the first female general manager of the Clyde Dam. Later, she was retirement commissioner for 10 years.

She plans to continue in her roles as voluntary adviser to the ChangeMakers Refugee Forum; financial education roles at Massey and George Washington universities; her board membership on Good Shepherd – which supports disadvantaged girls and women – and her chairwoman position on the board of Lifetime, a company that helps people manage their savings in their retirement.

She hopes, after her exit, that the question of ambulance funding will be picked up as an election-year issue. 

If the Government would provide even more than her $60m funding estimate, it would give the country a much stronger ambulance service, she adds.

"We do have people wait and they don't understand why ... They've broken their leg and they're waiting for an ambulance [and they don't understand] that we have to go to what we call 'red' and 'purple' jobs – which are the life threatening and imminent death situations – first. 

"So if we had more resources, we could be a much more responsive ambulance service."

WHAT CAN $60M GET YOU?

A fully funded ambulance industry, says Crossan. Here's what else $60m in taxpayer money has bought in the past year:

* The Tourism Infrastructure Fund got $60.5m in new money  

* Pharmac got a $60 to widen the treatments on lung cancer and HIV

* Christchurch received a $60m boost for the central city Gloucester St project

* The New Zealand Film Commission spent $60m on enticing overseas production companies to spend money here. International films that benefited included The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2Ted 2DeadpoolFast and Furious 7; and The Jungle Book.

 - Stuff

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